By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
Golden Valley football (0-1) dropped its season opener to the visiting Newbury Park Panthers (1-0) in an injury- and penalty-ridden game.
Newbury Park was led Friday night by freshman quarterback Beau Smigiel, who finished well over 200 yards with four touchdown passes.
Grizzly quarterback Chris Melkonian had some under-throws early but managed to look sharp for most of the game. The gunslinger finished 19 of 33 for nearly 200 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
The Grizzlies would also have to play without head coach Dan Kelley, who was forced to miss the opener with COVID-19. Offensive Coordinator Mike Edwards took over head coaching duties for the absent Kelley.
“We overcame some adversities this week,” said Edwards. “Not having your head coach on the sidelines is a tough thing. But no excuses, that wasn’t why we lost.”
Both teams struggled to get going early and punted on their first drives.
Senior wide receiver Ajani Smith dropped what would’ve been a wide-open 35-yard touchdown. Smith made up for it two plays later with a 31-yard touchdown reception from Melkonian.
Newbury Park answered immediately with some big strikes of its own. Smigiel hit Shane Rosenthal for the first of their two touchdown connections.
Golden Valley would go three and out on the following possession but Newbury Park kept rolling. Smigiel hit receiver Casey Knieriem on a huge 45-yard touchdown catch.
“That kid’s a freshman on paper but he doesn’t play like a freshman,” said Edwards. “The kid’s an athlete and a talent.”
The Panthers then scored 21 unanswered points following a field goal on their next drive and enough was enough.
Melkonian led his team down the field on a great drive with multiple big gains. The senior quarterback capped off the drive with his second touchdown connection with Smith.
“I thought we played well offensively for our first game,” said Melkonian. “We just have to keep rolling.”
Smith left the first half early with an injury but still finished with 92 of his 113 yards in just the opening half.
However, Newbury Park’s momentum was not altered and the big 6-foot, 4-inch Smigiel led the team down the field for two more consecutive scoring drives.
The Grizzlies were in a 31-14 hole, needing some life heading into the halftime break. Melkonian drove the team down the field but Rosenthal intercepted a tipped ball in the red zone to secure the big first half lead.
The second half had the same recipe as the first. Both teams punted followed by a Golden Valley score. The Grizzlies capped off a long drive that ate up the majority of the quarter with a Melkonian to William Hake 2-yard touchdown reception.
“The chemistry is there with everyone,” said Melkonian. “We just need to keep playing. It’s only the first game, I think we’ll get better.”
The Panthers resurged and started moving the ball well again. Penalties flooded the Newbury Park offense all game but it didn’t stop them much. The Panthers capped off the drive with a Nolan Story rushing score to go up 38-21.
Senior linebacker Malachi Beachum led the Grizzlies with a sack and a ton of tackles.
Melkonian was under duress for more of the game than he’d like, but his legs constantly kept plays alive. The senior was sacked just once on the night.
Drive after drive, multiple Grizzlies went down with injuries leading to a line and crowd at the medical staff’s table.
Many of the injured were Golden Valley’s two-way stars.
Edwards wants to see his team pay better attention to detail and execute their jobs, not someone else’s.
The quarterback also wants to see the team be less careless.
“I think we just have to stop being careless starting with me,” said Melkonian. “Bad throws and bad reads. We’re such a better offense, we should be moving the ball on every play and scoring on every drive.”
Golden Valley will look to get everyone healthy before they take on Antelope Valley next Friday.